We often see players shadow-practicing on the pitch or sitting quietly on the turf, as if in meditation, on the eve of a match. Experts call it visualisation, a foresight into things to come on matchday.
Shane Warne didn't have that luxury as his team reached Jaipur late on Tuesday night. But the Rajasthan Royals skipper seemed to freeze on the wicket when he came for a recce an hour before Wednesday’s tie. He took a good look at the deck, bowled at an imaginary batsman and walked away as if the match was in his pocket.
The pressure was more on the Royals than on Kings XI Punjab. The latter were playing for pride but the hosts’ semi-final chances rode on this tie. The Royals handled the pressure brilliantly, played professionally and backed each other till they beat Punjab by nine wickets.
Warne went into the match without both Shaun Tait and Morne Morkel. He included Adam Voges instead, in a bid to shore up the batting on a hard and dry Sawai Mansingh Stadium wicket.
The need for a tearaway pacer was soon forgotten when Aditya Dole struck twice in the 12th over to peg Punjab back. The rookie pacer bowled within himself and let the batsmen take their chances. Yuvraj Singh's overconfidence saw his woodwork splintered, and Mahela Jayawardene’s attempted cheeky shot did him in.
Once again Warne showed why he is such a highly rated captain.
He rotated his bowlers well, refused to wilt despite being walloped for three sixes by Yuvraj and set the field to back the bowling attack.
He preserved Shane Watson and Siddharth Trivedi for the final overs and the two responded in style. Watson conceded just 19 runs from his four overs, picking up a wicket, while Trivedi returned figures of 4-0-22-2.
A 154-run target wasn’t a tall task on a belter of a wicket. Michael Lumb registered his maiden IPL fifty and Naman Ojha obliged by allowing his partner do the hitting. Lumb played like a man possessed and found the fence with ridiculous ease.
His big hits off S Sreesanth infuriated the bowler. When he fell, the Royals were comfortably placed at 109 from 10 overs. From them on, it was a mere formality.
Ojha and Yusuf Pathan ensured that the Royals romped home without losing another wicket, a welcome boost to their net run rate.